June 27, 2017

A few months ago, I met Ruby in Cubbon Park. Her sleek features and graceful stride was unlike that of any dog that I had seen before. Her owner answered my quizzical look with the explanation, “She is a Mudhol Hound”. I was intrigued to learn that the breed was special to Karnataka.

While LabradorsAlsatians and Dobermans have large fan bases in the country, the Mudhol, Kombai and Bakarwal breeds have slipped into near anonymity. These dogs are all Indian, well adapted to our climatic extremities. Unfortunately, they continue to be shunned by less-informed dog owners, leading to their neglect and rapid extinction.

S Theodore Baskaran’s fascinating book The Book of Indian Dogs, hopes to change this. The slim volume packs centuries of history and detailed information about 25 indigenous dog breeds – from the lofty Himalayan Mastiff, bred to battle snow leopards, to the majestic Rampur Hounds and Rajapalayams, bred by Nawabs as hunting dogs, adept at tracking and chasing down prey.

The “King of Indian Dogs” Rampur Hound was honoured with a commemorative stamp in 2005.
The “King of Indian Dogs” Rampur Hound was honoured with a commemorative stamp in 2005. 

A former Chief Postmaster General ofTamil Nadu, Baskaran fell in love with Indian dog breeds after meeting two Rajapalayams in a small train station in Tiruchirapally. He adopted one from the breeder, and that was the beginning of a lifelong obsession documenting the disappearing breeds of Indian dogs.

The Rajapalayam is known as the “Prince of Indian Dogs”.
The Rajapalayam is known as the “Prince of Indian Dogs”.

“We think of culture and architecture and heritage, but our indigenous species, including our dogs, are our heritage too. They need to be recognised and protected,” he says.

The last such documentation on Indian breeds was done almost a century ago by a Frenchman who listed more than 50 breeds. Baskaran, unfortunately, could trace only 25, a fact which he rues. “With the popularity of foreign breeds, most indigenous bloodlines have been ruined. Unethical breeders cross breed the foreign ones with our locals to increase their immunity. For example, there are around 20 pure Rampur Hounds left in the country now.

With government support, Karnataka’s Mudhol Hound is slowly regaining popularity
With government support, Karnataka’s Mudhol Hound is slowly regaining popularity

Though bleak, things are looking up for the local breeds in recent times. TheChippiparai, a breed indigenous to Tamil Nadu, was discovered to be a universal blood donor, compatible with all dog breeds. Extensive research is now being conducted to discover other characteristics which make our dog breeds special. The Karnataka government has provided incentives to Mudhol Hound breeders, and the Society of Indian Breeds of Dogs (SIBD) Bengaluru held the first Indian Dog Breeds speciality show in 2014. But it is not enough. “We need proper institutional and government support and most importantly, dog owners need to be made aware that these breeds exist. Our unique breeds deserve nothing less,” he says.

Indian Stray Dogs, many of which have descended from the very breeds that the book extolls, are mentioned in the appendix, and in a tone that likens them to vermin. India has more than 30 million strays, one of the highest in the world. Baskaran opines that the Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme, under which strays are rounded up by municipal agencies, neutered and returned to their areas, has failed to control population. “Attempting to neuter all of them is like trying to empty a vast lake with a bottomless bucket,” he writes. According to him only way to control population is by euthanising “ownerless dogs”.

While this will rankle readers, Baskaran explained his point at the book launch recently at the Bangalore International Centre. “None of this is the fault of the dogs themselves, and one wishes that methods such as ABC were more effective. India’s stray dog problem has been aggravated by lack of government support and by utterly irresponsible dog ownership. People abandon their dogs in public places, and those that survive join packs. They revert to their feral instincts,” he said.

“A dog is a dog,” says Baskaran, and quite a few dog lovers agree, preferring to adopt a stray over buying a pedigreed dog.
“A dog is a dog,” says Baskaran, and quite a few dog lovers agree, preferring to adopt a stray over buying a pedigreed dog.
“We need strict regulations to protect our dogs,” S Theodore Baskaran

The book ends with an appeal to dog aficionados to come forward with more images and information about our dogs. Baskaran is already at work on the next edition, which will also be published in Tamil.

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Text by Subhalakshmi Roy
Dogs and Images Credit: Ramya Jawahar, Indrani De & Debalina Chowdhury